Avoid Politics, Religion & Sports When Interacting with Potential Buyers | Xanadu Gallery’s Art Marketing Minute

During an election season, even in mid-term election, it’s almost impossible to get away from politics. In this Art Marketing Minute, we explore the importance of keeping your focus on your art when you are trying to sell.

Share Your Experience

Have you made the mistake of bringing up politics, religion or sports in your interactions with your clients? What was the result. What have you learned about directing the conversation away from these topics? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

16 Comments

  1. On a recent trip to talk to gallery owners, I had an experience I will not soon forget.

    Upon entering the gallery, the owner walked over and introduced himself. He then went on to talk about how wonderful and successful his gallery has been over the years. (I had done nothing at this point except tell him my name.) He then asked me, “How do you vote?”. Without really wanting an answer, he proceeded to tell me his views (not important in this post). I listened for a moment and then started walking towards thee door. He followed me and continued speaking even as I walked out.

    I never told him I why I was there and I am so glad I didn’t. For me, personally, I would never want to hang in a gallery where this sort of conversations happen.

    Lesson learned? Make sure you really want to hang in a gallery, not just any one that wants your work.

  2. Interestingly enough one of my most recent and lucrative sales was of a highly politically charged piece of art. I believe that one of the purposes of art is to challenge the status quo… just as good journalism does. When I followed up with a thank you note to this new client, (since I was not present when the sale was made), I was both delighted and amused when the client wrote back to thank me for my bravery in presenting the piece in public. However, I do understand the issue with how angry many of us (myself included) can become about any of those topics. I set up a Facebook page just for my artwork but I know that my personal Facebook account tends to become both challenging to the religious mainstream and political issues. I’ll try to be more mindful or at least keep my personal account private including only close like-minded friends and family.

  3. Point well taken regarding how distracting political debate could be the an art sale. And Iā€™m also keenly aware that artist and viewer can take very different meanings from an art piece. But what if you are Francisco Goya, showing your The Third of May 1808 to a group of potential buyersfor the first time? How can you avoid the political? I suppose you mean to differentiate between subjects to avoid during the small talk that may occur around a sale, and discussion of the subject matter of the art piece itself.

  4. So, introducing myself as a member of an Anarco syndicalist commune and that God has revealed to me that the Lakers will destroy all the other rival scum and win the playoffs is probably not a good introduction in a gallery setting. This could be the reason I don’t sell enough paintings.

  5. I was a bit surprised and disappointed in this video. I have been following you for some time and have also purchased your book.
    So many works of art that are of historical important deal with politics and religion! While I would generally agree with you that randomly discussing these subjects at an art show or opening might be wise to avoid. Do you only show formalist paintings in your gallery with no political or real life narrative? Life is complex, art is important that discusses these subjects.

    1. Thanks for your comment Wilma, and to others who have expressed a similar viewpoint. I think it’s important to differentiate between political/social subject matter and political/religious/sports conversations. If you are creating overtly political artwork, you are clearly in a different position. Your audience will self-select – it’s unlikely you’ll be having conversations with anyone other than people who agree with your political views. The rest won’t be interested in your work. I agree that there have been artists who have had a huge impact with this kind of work, but that doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily sold well. It all comes down to your goals.

      My argument is that if your goal is to sell your art to the broadest audience possible, and if your work isn’t explicitly political, it makes little sense to engage in political conversation with potential customers for all of the reasons I enumerated in the video. My intention is to help an artist who has been engaging in these kind of conversations understand why sales may be suffering.

      There is a time and place for everything, and for most artists and gallerists, the time for politics is outside the gallery or studio.

  6. There are a lot of interesting comments here. My view is from an entirely different perspective. I am Canadian. I was raised to believe that it was very rude to ask anyone about their politics or religion. Sports, Hockey in particular is an entirely different thing here and openly discussed without hostility. I do know that from travelling in the States, that the first questions often asked when meeting someone socially are, what political party do you support and what church do you attend. I find this very odd, and extremely rude and thankfully have not had to field these questions in any Gallery yet. As I said, a different perspective.

  7. A couple of years ago I was an exhibitor at Loveland’s Sculpture in the Park show. I thought it was safe enough to to ask a woman who was originally from Belarus what her take was about what was happening in Ukraine. I didn’t indicate one way or another what I thought – I really wanted to know what she thought. She looked puzzled for a brief moment and then laid into me about how they love Vladimir Putin and how he is a hero. She was obviously angry and that was the end of any more interaction. She assumed I didn’t like what he was doing in Ukraine even though I hadn’t volunteered my opinion. (She did assume correctly.) I learned my lesson not to bring up politics – even when assuming a neutral position and asking about regions far, far away. There is no good reason to raise issues that will likely be a distraction.

  8. Jason, I have had to delete several downright nasty remarks on my Facebook page from other artists. I just didn’t want to be associated with them, letting them think that they were my feelings as well. Our country is so divided right now. Don’t people realize that they could be alienating half of their buying base with their comments? You are so right to be bringing this subject up!

  9. I learned this one the hard way. Difficult client was a volunteer at the Nixon Library. Talking about the David Frost interview was not a good idea. A couple of weeks into the project, she cancelled and wanted her deposit back (after I’d put in many, many hours and purchased supplies.) Worse part was she wrote a stinging review on Yelp.

  10. The thing I appreciate most about your presentation is recognizing that the emotional wavelength of art is very different from that of other subjects which invoke intense feelings, such as religion, sports, and politics, and injecting these subjects into communication about your art can be detrimentally distracting. And pointing out the solution of simply staying focused on your art and the person’s views and interest in it is very workable.

    I would even expand the list of subjects to stay away from as anything that might disturb the person, or remind him of his troubles if the purpose of your art is after all to uplift and take the viewer out of their troubles. Of course, if the purpose of your art is more to effect social change by creating a different sort of passion, then that wouldn’t apply. You just have to use some judgement on what you are trying to accomplish with your art.

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